The personality traits of neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, extraversion, and conscientiousness, known as the “big five,” have been studied at length in relation to nearly every psychological condition. Several of the big five traits have been linked to suicide, but only in the presence of other comorbid conditions or only when viewed through a limited lens.
To get a more comprehensive picture of how these personality traits affect the risk of suicide in the general population, Victor Bluml of the Department of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria recently conducted a study involving community participants. Bluml assessed 2,555 adults for measures of past, present, and potential suicidality as well as for the big five. He controlled for other risk factors such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and socioeconomic status.
The results revealed that specific big five traits influenced risk for suicide for men differently than for women. For women, Bluml discovered that high levels of openness and neuroticism increased suicide risk. For men, low levels of conscientiousness and extraversion elevated the risk of suicide.
Bluml believes that neuroticism, which is a risk factor for depression, could increase depressive symptoms in women, making them more vulnerable to maladaptive coping and impulsivity. This could explain the link between neuroticism and suicidality in women. However, women are more likely to have nonfatal suicide attempts than men.
When Bluml looked at the big five scores for the male participants, he found that there was no direct association between openness or neuroticism and suicide. But extraversion, which is associated with positive affect, was found to be linked to suicide risk when scores were low. Likewise, low scores on conscientiousness, which directly impacts hopefulness, were also shown to be predictive of suicidality for males. Bluml also found that these trends persisted even when other factors such as anxiety, unemployment and stress were considered.
These results clearly show how specific personality factors impact suicide uniquely for each gender. Bluml also added, “Different personality dimensions are significantly associated with suicide-related behaviors even when adjusting for other known risk factors of suicidality.”
Blüml, V., Kapusta, N.D., Doering, S., Brähler, E., Wagner, B., et al. (2013). Personality factors and suicide risk in a representative sample of the German general population. PLoS ONE 8(10): e76646. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076646
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